Monday, December 2, 2013

Houseplant of the Week: Tillandsias

Welcome to the wonderful, slightly bizarre world of tillandsias! I fell in love with this plant a few years ago when I was on a trip to Nicaragua, where tillandsias grow in trees. Tillandsias are epiphytes, meaning they do not need soil to grow. Instead, they attach themselves to their host (trees, for example), but are not parasitic. They rely on the host plant for support only, and gather all their nutrients through their leaves from the environment around them. Tillandsias are perfect for open terrariums (closed terrariums should be avoided because they don't have enough air circulation), mounting on rocks or driftwood, and displaying in moss on tabletops. I love the varied, other-worldly forms, don't you?

Common Name: Air plant, tillandsia, tillies
Botanical Name: Tillandsia spp.
USDA Hardiness zones: 9-11
Size: Anywhere from tiny 1" to fairly gigantic 40"
Light Requirements: Bright but filtered
Water Requirements: Low to average (do not overwater).  Let dry out between watering. Soak tillies in water once a week for about 20 minutes, then shake the water out and allow to dry before replacing in your display. You can mist them in between waterings, or you can opt to mist them every other day in place of soaking. 
Soil Requirements: None
Flower: Many, but not all, tillies bloom. Flowers are usually a tubular shape and have bright colors like purple, pink, yellow, blue and white.
General Description: Tillandsias are the largest genus in the bromeliad family, with over 550 different species. They are native to large parts of Central and South America, as well as some southernmost parts of the United States. The most important thing to remember about Tillandsia care is good air circulation and bright light. You can place them outside during the warm months, but keep them out of direct sunlight. You can give them some water-soluble fertilizer, mixed at ¼-strength and sprayed on, every two weeks. Tillies do not need fertilizing, but if you want to encourage bloom and faster growth, it's recommended.
Where to Purchase: There are many online stores where you can order tillandsias if your local garden center does not carry them.

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